EFSA trying to get transparent

April 2013

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) seemed very determined not to hear the GM safety wake-up call in Professor Séralini's long-term feeding study (see GM MAIZE NOT SAFE TO EAT - October 2012).

After requesting a 'new' opinion on the study, the Authority has persisted in rejecting its conclusions.

However, how 'new' this opinion was has been questioned: it was written by the same scientists who gave the GM maize the go-ahead in the first place, and consisted of nothing more than a compilation of all the critiques from pro-GM bodies.


The decision to ignore the study was made despite expert opinions from elsewhere which make it clear that, in fact, there's no scientific consensus on the criticisms levied (for example, see note 1).

Note 1 - Opinion on Séralini's long-term feeding study by a panel of 11 scientists of Belgian Biosafety Advisory Council
With regard to the most common criticisms made, out of the eleven scientists:
  • 6 endorsed the strain of rat used
  • 8 found the control group size acceptable
  • 10 found the number of experimental groups acceptable
  • 10 found the end-points acceptable
  • 8 found the omission of characterisation of the tumours acceptable
  • 9 found the biochemical parameters measured acceptable
There seemed to be criticism of, but no consensus about, the statistics applied.
The panel's conclusion was that “... the publication ... provides a reasonable and sufficient doubt to promote research on the impact of GMOs and pesticide associated with this type of culture ... Rather than rejecting these results, should we not according to the scientific approach, encourage new experiments to verify the reproducibility of the results by correcting any shortcomings? ... All this calls for extreme caution and to discuss these issues with great care”


On the other hand, the EFSA may not be quite as deaf as it appeared. In January 2013, the Authority launched a major initiative to facilitate access to data and thereby enhance transparency in its risk assessments.

Given the level of public interest, the EFSA decided to kick off this initiative with maize NK603 (the subject of Séralini's experiment). Monsanto's dossier submitted for the approval of the GM maize is now on the EFSA website. The data in it are now fully available to the public.

To those who are familiar with Monsanto's tendency to aggressive habits, this seems a brave move.

Obviously realising that enabling new, independent scrutiny of the NK603 data would draw criticism on both Monsanto and the Authority, the EFSA has taken steps to distance itself from what's in the dossier with an interesting disclaimer (see Note 2).


Note 2 - EFSA copyright disclaimer regarding its disclosure of Monsanto's GM maize NK603 data
The files provided for download on this page are not the property of EFSA. They do not reflect EFSA's position and EFSA disclaims any responsibility for content errors, omissions, or infringing material and disclaims any responsibility associated with relying on the information provided. EFSA does not assume legal responsibility or liability of any kind for their copyright status. The files originate from Monsanto services International S.A. and were provided to EFSA in the context of the authorisation process laid down in regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 September 2003 on genetically modified food and feed. Please contact Monsanto Services International S.A. or the copyrights owner before any reproduction, translation, redistribution, exploitation or commercial use of the content, to ensure that the terms and conditions asserted by the copyright holder are adhered to.

And is Monsanto sitting back and letting the EU hang out its (possibly dirty) laundry for everyone to see? And tell everyone if there's a problem, ask Monsanto's?

Disclaimer notwithstanding, the Company was quick to “note” that the EFSA had found NK603 safe for human health and for the environment.

According to the Company it “firmly supports transparency in European regulatory decision-making, but strongly objects to EFSA's unilateral publication of Monsanto's data”. It warned “For Europe to attract investment in agricultural biotechnology it needs a regulatory environment that follows legislation and is predictable and science-based rather than one determined by the demands of campaign groups”. Despite headlines in Le Monde that Monsanto was threatening to sue the EFSA, the Company claimed to be seeking “dialogue not legal action”.

OUR COMMENT


The habitual biotech industry 'proof' that its products are safe because regulators have said so may be about to unravel.

It seems that Monsanto both firmly supports and strongly objects to transparency at the same time. The veiled threat about what happens to those who stand in the way of biotech progess and the insults about poor legislation, anti-science practices and blaming anti-GM campaigners are routine. Was the threatened legal action the usual knee-jerk (American) reaction which the Company then realised wouldn't go down too well in Europe? There are certainly signs Monsanto's feathers are ruffled.

The most interesting thing about this initiative is that it's the first indication that the EFSA is trying to disconnect itself from the industry grasp.

KEEP NUDGING THE EFSA IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION - ITS GRASP MAY SLIP

SOURCES:
  • EFSA promotes public access to data in transparency initiative, EFSA Press Release, 14.01.13
  • GM Watch comments on the Belgian Biosafety Advisory Council opinion on the Seralini et al (2012) study on GM maize and roundup, GM Watch 4.03.13
  • EFSA jeopardises public confidence, Greens/EFA group, European Parliament, www.greens-efa.eu, 29.11.12
  • Shane Starling, Monsanto threatens to sue EFSA over publication of maize GM data, www.foodnavigator.com, 8.03.13
  • GMOs: Monsanto wants to attack EFSA in the courts, Le Monde, 8.03.13 (translation by GM Watch

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